For exhibit and event professionals  

What’s coming out of their mouths?

July 4, 2013 By Editor

We always have coffee and snacks in our exhibit for our staff and guests. But staffers with their mouths full while talking to a visitor look rude and unprofessional. How do I keep them from doing this?

— Becca, exhibit manager

Make sure it’s nothing but good information

Becca, to say staff members look unprofessional when they eat and talk to booth visitors simultaneously is an understatement, and this type of behavior shouldn’t be tolerated. Some Facebook users offer novel solutions to this problem.

Judy Povinelli Barnhart, account manager at Dimensional Communications Inc., and

John Roy, respectively, say: “Hire staffers with better manners?” and “Take them to breakfast before the show opens.” John Verspoor writes, “At one time a long, long time ago, I was a Marine Corps drill instructor. Give me five minutes with them.”

Our other readers’ advice falls into one of two camps:

  • Remind staff members why good manners should prevail.
  • Make a no-noshing rule.

Remind staff members why good manners should prevail

Although almost everyone was told as a child not to speak and eat at the same time, apparently, it’s time for a refresher course for your booth staff.

Vickie L. Boyer provides an example you can use with your people.

“Ask them to eat on a break. If you were standing in line at a fast-food place, and the person taking your order was eating, would you stay and order or leave? I’d leave.”

Rebecca Presson is direct and to the point in matters like these.

“Um … tell them not to, and that it looks unprofessional? Remind them that they are representing your company in EVERY way, from what they say, how they dress, how they stand, how they act and yes … how they eat!”

Jane Lorimer, managing director of Lorimer Consulting Group, would go one step further.

“Take photos to show them how unpleasant this looks to guests.”

Harry Hallman suggests an even more extreme tactic.

“Just before a show, get staff together in the booth and give them a rundown while you are eating cookies and drinking coffee. Do not offer anyone anything. Make it as bad as you can, and then when you are finished, ask them how it felt to have you eating and talking with your mouth open while you were explaining things to them. Most won’t like it. Then it is an easy thing to explain you did it on purpose to show them how rude it is.”

Make a no-noshing rule

But the majority of our readers think the best thing to do is forbid eating in the booth.

A consultant doesn’t see any problems with setting this policy.

“I’ve always just asked staffers not to do it. I’m the exhibit manager, so I’m in charge. No one has ever questioned this or gone outside what I’ve asked.”

Connie Twynham, VP of business development at Innovatia, agrees.

“Make it a rule that staff members do not eat at the exhibit booth. They will have breaks when they can go and eat lunch or get a snack. Tell them this is to prevent a customer from catching them with their mouth full.”

A marketing specialist concurs that reassuring booth staff they will have regular breaks should help with the situation.

“Do you have a booth schedule for your staff? If yes, make it part of your booth rules that staff eat only when they are on break. They should leave the space and take their snacks with them. The other option is to save your money and eliminate snacks.”

Julie Rowell, trade show director at Equifax, believes setting down the law before arriving at the show is necessary.

“In all of our preshow communications to staff, I simply tell them they cannot eat in the booth. If they do and I am there, I ask them to leave the booth and come back when they are through eating.”

Peg O’Donnell, marketing programs manager with IBM, combines the early briefing with consideration for the staff.

“I explicitly write in the staff booth guide (and relay during on-site booth briefings) that eating and drinking anything other than water is not allowed. No ifs, ands or buts. If I see it, I take it, and it’s gone. No discussion.

“I clearly convey items provided are for clients only and in view of courtesy (and my budget), I want to make sure there is plenty for them. I remind staff that not only does it appear unprofessional when eating in front of a client, but who will check them for crumbs, specks in their teeth and breath? I provide Tic Tacs to the team, but still those Tic Tacs would have to work overtime if my team was continually munching on Danishes, cookies or popcorn!

“I make sure my staff members are happy, are refreshed with working shifts and have all the tools they need to interact successfully with our clients. But they all know this is a line they better not cross with me, as we’re all here to put the best foot forward when interacting with our clients.”


  • As long as Becca is sure to give her booth staff regular breaks long enough for them to get something to eat and drink, I think most of them will abide by a no-eating-in-the-booth rule. Also, allowing them to sample some of the goodies intended for visitors — before the show — may prevent staff members from helping themselves to the goodies when she isn’t looking.

    Which of these solutions do you think would work for your staffers?

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